Iranian hackers are launching state-sanctioned attacks on US energy firms and hope to sabotage critical infrastructure by targeting industrial control systems, according to American officials.
The attacks on oil, gas and power firms have so far concentrated on accruing information on how their systems work – a likely first step in a co-ordinated campaign that would eventually result in attacks aimed at disrupting or destroying such infrastructure.
The prospect of such attacks has senior American officials more worried than the espionage-related incursions which Chinese state-sponsored attackers have been blamed for, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"This is representative of stepped-up cyber activity by the Iranian regime. The more they do this, the more our concerns grow," one anonymous official told the 'paper. "What they have done so far has certainly been noticed, and they should be cautious."
Iran has form when it comes to disrupting US critical infrastructure, having being blamed at the beginning of the year for a series of denial of service attacks on banks in the country.
However, sabotaging industrial control systems represents a greater level of sophistication on the part of the attackers and a serious risk to be managed by those energy firms involved.
Just last week, a report by Congressmen Ed Markey and Henry Waxman urged electricity companies to improve their security posture, after revealing that more than a dozen of those surveyed reported their systems were under “daily”, “frequent” or “constant” attack.
Ironically, some have argued that it was the infamous Stuxnet attack – widely believed to be a US-led effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program – which not only showcased the dramatic potential of targeting industrial control systems, but also drove Iran to beef up its own cyber defence and attack capabilities.
Unsurprisingly, the Islamic republic has maintained it is the victim, not the perpetrator, of attacks.
The Journal quotes Iranian spokesperson Alireza Miryousefi as saying “Although Iran has been repeatedly the target of state-sponsored cyber attacks, attempting to target Iran's civilian nuclear facilities, power grids, oil terminals and other industrial sectors, Iran has not ever retaliated against those illegal cyber attacks." ®